holding dog paw

This is the season of giving, and if you’re making a list and checking it twice — or even considering how very nice a tax deduction would be — you don’t want to forget organizations that help animals.

What to Give

Money is always welcome when it comes time to give. You can make a simple donation or you can buy a membership as a gift to an animal-loving friend or family member. The latter is an especially good idea if you know a child who's getting several gifts, since it teaches the importance of contributing to those who are not as fortunate.

Money isn't the only way to help, though. Groups can often use items you might be throwing away, such as old newspapers or frayed towels. Sheltering groups also go through an amazing number of can openers! You might also consider buying large bags of pet food or cat litter and donating those, not only to shelters but also to community food pantries. Some groups have thrift stores or occasional tag sales, so you can donate almost any item for them to sell to raise money. Also appreciated are office supplies such as paper, notebooks and pens. Some groups need relatively new computers, scanners, copiers and other office equipment; call to see what their needs are.

And while you're at it, ask if they have a wish list of big-ticket items they are hoping to get donated, such as building materials or vehicles. Tracking down such items is a wonderful way of volunteering for those who are too tenderhearted to work at the shelter. Depending on your powers of persuasion, you might be able to get needed items donated just by making a phone call or two to area businesses.

What if you do have a little cash to spare? While charitable giving has taken a hit because people just don’t have as much to give in this economy, you can help the most with your donations by making sure you agree with the work and views (and salaries) of any organization that wants your money. And realize that the groups that don’t have money for direct-mail campaigns or advertising could probably use your donation more than the ones that do spend to get your cash.

More Ways to Help

Though most people think of shelters when they think of giving, many other groups are also doing great work and could use some support. Here’s a rundown of some of the charities I like:

  • Health research: The best known of these is likely the Winn Feline Foundation, which has funded some important research to advance the health of cats, with results that have saved countless lives. On the dog side, the AKC Canine Health Foundation gives grants for research that’s both general and breed specific.
  • Veterinary schools: You may think scholarships, and, yes, that’s one of the many ways a contribution to your nearest school or college of veterinary medicine can help. But donations can also help pets more directly. Some community colleges have programs to train the next generation of veterinary technicians, and these can use a boost too.
  • Fix-it funds: The American Animal Hospital Association’s Helping Pets Fund works through veterinarians to help pets whose owners can’t afford care. In Memory of Magic works in a similar way. If you’re willing to do without the tax break, you might find a needy case on Chipin to add a few dollars to help.
  • Therapy animals: Animals help people in more ways than I have room to list here. From programs where dogs help teach children to read to those helping injured veterans get back on their feet by getting on a horse, animal-assisted therapy is always worth supporting. Check out the Delta Society for more.

There are so many ways to help. This is really just the tip of the iceberg. Ask your veterinarian for more suggestions and don’t forget that many of these groups also could use volunteers. So put on your Santa hat and get going!